The drive for perfection
Four films about female body image
What does my reflection show?
Film, just like other media, shapes society’s (body) image of women. The type of woman varies, but regardless of whether she is a femme fatale or a princess, one thing remains: the standard of beauty of our times. Four films in our program focus on the female body and question that very standard.
In Yelyzaveta Pysmak’s animated film MY FAT ARSE AND I, a woman looks at herself in the mirror. It can be torturous for a woman to look at her own face: an imperfection here, a gram too much there. So she starves herself and is invited to “Slimbuttlandia”. She’s greatly honored by this, until she notices that all the skinny butts and long legs that inhabit it are slaves to the all-powerful scale. Drawn partly in the style of a video game and incorporating some elements of pop culture, but with lots of yellow in any case, this is the story of a woman who finds her way to healthy self-esteem, leaving behind the insecurity caused by society’s notions of beauty.
PORTRAIT OF A WOMAN by Natalia Durszewicz seems more like a cinematic painting. This animated film, which interprets a poem by Nobel laureate Wisława Szymborska, highlights a further aspect of female standards of beauty. In this short film, a woman’s body is viewed not only through her own eyes, but by thousands of other eyes as well: strange eyes that have taken root inside her head, other people’s ideas that she internalizes. This leads to contradictions that make it impossible for her to fulfill everyone’s ideals: women are weak, but should take on anything; women are naive, but give the best advice. There is also talk of “change so that nothing will change”. Aging is not an option, so youth must be preserved and wrinkles prevented at all costs.
The views and expectations of others merge with one’s own. This is, of course, true not only of women, but they are particularly sensitive to the way they look. Some starve themselves to achieve a seemingly perfect body; others use make-up to retouch every imperfection. And if that’s no longer enough, only plastic surgeons can help.
As in FACES by Paul Vincent de Lestrade. In this documentary, Chinese women talk about the cosmetic surgery they’ve undergone or are currently undergoing, thus revealing the specific ramifications of their obsession with beauty. These women don’t wait until they’re old to undergo surgery; rather, they have it at a young age in order to be as close to perfect as possible while in the “flower of youth”. Faces are the main focus: eyes should appear larger, noses narrower. What’s the point of it all? A woman talks about how she’d like her son to be proud to introduce her as his mother and thinks she can achieve this through her appearance. Another relates that she always finds new flaws that need to be corrected. There is simply no such thing as bodily perfection.
This insight shapes the image that many women have of their bodies. The documentary SHE WANTS WHAT SHE WANTS illustrates how complexes and uncertainties affect women’s sex lives. Director Quynh Le Nguyen explores female sexuality. Women of different generations tell of physical shame during sex, a lack of sex education, and an inability to demand of their partner what they want to experience in bed. But the film also shows that none of this has to happen. The protagonists scream into the camera, show us their middle finger, and take things into their own hands. After all, women know best how their bodies work and what their needs are.